Mount Nestor attempt III March 5, 2005

Mountain height:      2,975 m (9,758 ft)
Elevation gain:         1,250 m (we came up 52 vertical metres short of the summit)
Ascent time:            
7:15
Descent time:          2.45        

Scrambling and a little mountaineering with Mark and Kevin.

A winter ascent of Mount Nestor seems to have become a minor obsession for us. The outstanding winter scenery, interesting and challenging scrambling up the south ridge, and a more than welcome shortcut across frozen Spray Lake, have made this trip one of our favourites, even though we have now failed to make the summit three times.

On our first attempt, almost exactly a year ago, we ran out of daylight, and our second attempt, in January of this year was thwarted by viciously cold temperatures. With an early start, a decent weather forecast, and very warm temperatures, for this time of the year, we strongly believed our third attempt would be successful.

Once again, we picked the south ridge as the ascent route. It is by far a more interesting, challenging, and aesthetically pleasing route than the normal scramble route up the gully west of the south ridge. We made good progress at the beginning of the day, and were soon at the crux, where the ridge narrows, with fair exposure on both sides. A very strong west wind hammered us for most of the ascent, however, the temperature, even with the wind, was not unbearable (as on our last attempt) and we hoped it would die down later in the day.

At the crux, we decided to stay on the ridge, as opposed to descending into the gully and then scrambling up slabs alongside it, as we had done last year. Although, in retrospect, probably not necessary, we also decided to set up a belay station and proceed roped and belayed. This was very educational for Mark and me, as we watched Kevin expertly set up the station, place protection along the way and set up another station after ascending the full 60 m length of the rope. He then belayed us both up to the station and then I continued up the next pitch. I would have liked to practice placing protection, however, time was a concern and so I scrambled up without doing so.

We continued along the scenic ridge, until we came to a fairly narrow section, where dropping down the scree slopes below seemed like the fastest route. After a thirty minute slog up slabs and rubble, we came to a steepish snow slope leading to the summit ridge. Unfortunately, under the thin, top layer of soft snow was a hard layer of ice and so crampons, axes, and a belay were needed to ascend the 70 metre pitch. Kevin led and once again set up an anchor, this time in using his ice axe. Unfortunately, we were belayed up into hell! The wind on the ridge was ferocious and within minutes we were all suffering miserably from the severe cold. A quick GPS reading indicated we were 52 vertical metres from the summit and I could easily see the false summit, about ten minutes away. The sky was now completely overcast and ominous storm clouds were approaching rapidly from the west. The suggestion to turn around immediately was met with absolutely no resistance and we quickly started heading down the west ridge. Though extremely close to the false summit, attempting to complete the ascent in the extreme weather conditions would have been too risky and we simply would have been too cold to enjoy the summit even if we had made it (Kevin commented that he felt like he was on Mount Logan again, where a few years ago he and his climbing partner were forced to spend several days in a snow cave to escape a very nasty storm).   

Not wanting to belay each other back down the steep snow slope, we found a very easy route down the ridge, west of Kane’s alternate descent route. This route also avoided traveling beneath a rather threatening-looking cornice and further down, it joined up with Kane’s route. Lower down, we found ourselves postholing in deep snow and so I took out my snowshoes and Mark and Kevin enjoyed a far more rapid descent on Crazy Carpets (in this case, a very inexpensive and light alternative to skis!).

An almost complete day: some beautiful weather, some brutal weather, a little scrambling, a little mountaineering, fantastic scenery followed by the scary scenery (storm clouds), some snowshoeing, some Crazy Carpeting, and a good dose of physical and mental exhaustion; the one thing missing - the summit!    

Approaching the crux section of the south ridge

 

Kevin climbing the first pitch of the crux

 

Scrambling up the second pitch 

 

The terrific view to the south; French, Robertson, Sir Douglas, Commonwealth, Pig's Tail, Birdwood, The Fist, Tent Ridge, and Smuts

 

Mark and Kevin coming up the ridge

 

Great scenery of the south ridge

 

...and again

 

Mark traversing the ridge; Mount Buller is behind

 

Mark and Kevin on the ridge

 

The Kane scramble route ascends the snow-filled gully to the left of Mark

 

The snow slope before the summit ridge

Click HERE to see our first attempt
Click HERE to see our second attempt

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